Lilith and Olaf by Ella & Pitr

Ella & Pitr’s “Lilith and Olaf” in Norway is the largest mural in the world. Image via designboom

APEX Insight: When we speak of in-flight entertainment, we rarely consider what exists beyond the confines of the aircraft cabin. Having grown weary of traditional materials and museum walls, artists are rethinking the possibilities of otherwise relinquished space, decorating rooftops and sprawling fields with images that are meant to be seen from a different angle.

With an unprecedented increase in air travel and the advent of Google Earth, artists have begun to reinterpret and repurpose otherwise unconsidered urban and rural spaces to create public art that is conceived with a new viewer in mind. High-altitude drones and satellites can capture these artworks, but airplane passengers get to experience them with their own eyes.

Murals That Mythologize

Internationally acclaimed French artists Ella & Pitr specialise in creating large-scale artworks on rooftops, runways, houses, shipping containers and even entire fields. The pair painted the world’s largest mural in Klepp, Norway, as part of the 15th anniversary of Nuart, the country’s annual street art and mural festival. Depicting a woman curled up with a small figurine of King Olaf I of Norway falling from her fingers, the mural, entitled “Lilith and Olaf,” is visible from planes flying into and out of Stavanger’s Sola airport. Pilots have even begun to divert their paths to give passengers a better view of the masterpiece.

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A mock-up of fourth-grader Tywon Williams’ poem on a building near MIA. Image via USA Today

 Literary Landings

To celebrate National Poetry Month, O, Miami poetry festival partnered with Miami International Airport’s (MIA) Division of Fine Arts and Cultural Affairs, to paint poems on the rooftops of two buildings situated in MIA’s flight paths. Passengers with window seats flying in and out of the airport in the upcoming months will have the opportunity to read the poems, written by local third and fourth grade students, as part of a project entitled “Poems to the Sky.” “The unknowing window seat occupant who just happens to look out the window as they are taking off to the east or landing from the west is the winner,” said Randy Burnam, artist and project organizer.

Arachnid Invasion

Rooftop art seems harmless – that is, until it fools passengers into thinking that giant daddy longlegs are attacking the city. Marlin Peterson, a freelance scientific illustrator and muralist, created an enormous tromp l’oeil, using realistic imagery to make a 2-D image appear three-dimensional when viewed from a certain angle. In this case, that precise angle is the one of passengers flying in and out of Seattle–Tacoma International Airport. The 2,100 square foot optical illusion sits on the nearby rooftop of the Seattle Center Armory building.


Marlin Peterson’s optical illusion painted on the Seattle Center Armory building. Image via The Daily Mail

Border Crossings

Since 1978, passengers flying to Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee may have spotted a rooftop sign that reads “Welcome to Cleveland,” written in six-foot tall letters. The sign has caused so much confusion and panic amongst passengers that flight attendants are now in the habit of warning passengers about the prank. Mark Gubin, the mastermind behind the misleading signage, has said, “There’s not a real purpose for having this here except madness … which I tend to be pretty good at.”

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Mark Gubin on top of the old theatre roof that he painted with the words “Welcome to Cleveland.” Image: Michael Sears via Journal Sentinel

Earth Works for Artworks

Artist Stan Herd has been creating “earthworks” ­– large-scale art made from plants and earth that can only be seen in full from an aerial view – for years. His most recent earthwork, a reinterpretation of Vincent van Gogh’s “Olive Trees,” was created in partnership with the Minneapolis Institute of Art, to celebrate the organization’s centennial and honor the 125th anniversary of van Gogh’s death. Museumgoers may relish in the thought of a work of art created with pumpkins, squash, cantaloupes, grass, rocks, native plants and compostable “art supplies,” but it is only passengers flying in or out of Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport who can appreciate the work from the focal standpoint from which it was indented to be looked at: from way up high in the sky.


Stan Herd’s reinterpretation of Vincent van Gogh’s “Olive Trees” for the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Image via Dogo News